Trans-Pacific commuter

Juneau lawyer Bill Ruddy works half time as a consultant in a Vladivostok law firm he helped get started

Posted: Tuesday, December 22, 1998

If he's lucky, Bill Ruddy will be able to take off his heavy coat and fur hat when he arrives at the office in January.

Ruddy, a partner in the local law firm of Ruddy, Bradley and Kolkhorst, will be headed to Vladivostok, Russia. He spends about half his time there, working at an international law firm.

``It's hard times in Russia right now,'' he said. Coal shortages mean in some parts of Vladivostok buildings are barely heated. ``Many of the apartments are 45 to 50 degrees. I'm told people are walking around in their coats.''

When he called his co-workers recently, however, they said his office building is warmer. Vladivostok's centralized heating system is apparently functioning better in that part of the city, he said.


Juneau lawyer Bill Ruddy is helping to start a law office in Vladivostok.


Vladivostok seemed like a city with a bright future four years ago when Ruddy began helping an old college friend open an office of his international law firm there. Vladivostok is a port city of 650,000 people on the southeastern edge of Russia, with an economy historically based on fishing and transportation.

Ruddy, who studied Russian in college in the late 1950s and early 1960s, began traveling to Russia in 1989 when relations were beginning to thaw between what was then the Soviet Union and the United States.

The friend, Jonathan Russin of Russin and Becchi, already had an office in Moscow, as well as offices in seven or eight other cities, from Bangkok to Washington, D.C.

Ruddy helped Russin set up the Vladivostok office, which employs two Russian attorneys and one American lawyer, and has done some consulting work since then. When the office's American lawyer moved to Moscow earlier this year, Ruddy agreed to take his place on a half-time basis.

Since September he has been traveling back and forth between Juneau and Russia about every three weeks. His next visit to Vladivostok will be Jan. 6.

The firm's clients are mostly Americans and other foreigners who need legal help with matters like getting companies incorporated, lining up labor contracts and dealing with the taxing authorities, Ruddy said.

The work Ruddy does in Russia is in many ways similar to the work he does in Juneau, where he handles mostly commercial cases. In some ways, however, it's very different.

For instance, he had to register with the police when he arrived and let them know where he'd be living, as all foreigners do, he said. They don't suspect him of anything illegal, but nonetheless, politely informed him, ``we may come and call on you.''

``The financial crisis has been very difficult,'' Ruddy said. Bank accounts were frozen earlier this year to prevent a run on the banks. That can make ordinary business transactions very complicated.

For instance, when the law firm tried to order a new computer, it took three months to get it delivered because payment wasn't getting transferred to the seller.

Also, many workers are not being paid.

``You can work six months and not be paid for it,'' Ruddy said. That's why coal reserves are so low and heat is minimal. Miners stopped working because they were not getting paychecks.

Ruddy is paid because his check comes from the international firm's office in Washington.

Robin Zerbel, executive director of World Trade Center Alaska, said despite the recent financial difficulties, some Alaska companies are making money in Russia.

``It's tough right now for our companies,'' she said. ``But it's not impossible.''

``There are many, many companies this last year who have had very big contracts and sales.''

Most of the Alaska business efforts are concentrated in oil field work on Sakhalin Island, she said. Zerbel said Ruddy is an important part of a network of Alaska businesses working in Russia.

``I've been real impressed with his macro knowledge of Russia as a whole and the economic relationships and, of course, his legal experience. It's a real advantage to Alaska companies to be able to access him.''

Ruddy said the future of his Juneau firm, Ruddy, Bradley and Kolkhorst, isn't dependent on the strength of the Russian economy.

``We just have one lawyer who is there half-time, so it's not a serious investment on our part,'' he said.

He still thinks Vladivostok may have a bright future.

``Perhaps I'm an optimist, but I think, in a sense, they've bottomed out over there and things will gradually get better,'' Ruddy said.

He believes it will be eight to 10 years or longer before the economy is stable and productive, however.

``It's going to be a long haul,'' he said. ``They're people of great patience and I hope they can stay the course.''

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